Or – “Sadly, I Think I Really Meant To Pick Up #21.1…”
And here is my biggest complaint about Marvel’s Point One initiative: It’s a pain to keep track of. When purchasing this issue, I thought this was the first part of Rick Remender’s revamping of the Secret Avengers. Will my disappointment outweigh my enjoyment?
SECRET AVENGERS #21
Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously, in Secret Avengers: When Steve “The Captain Formerly Known As America” Rogers returned from death/the timestream, he found that Nick Fury had been ousted as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and replaced by the insane Norman Osborn. Taking over for Norm-O in the wake of the Siege of Asgard, Steve left one of the Green Goblin’s programs intact, that of the underground Avengers mission force that nobody knows about. I’ve never been entirely sure that I accept this sort of off-the-books Jim Phelps attitude from Cap, but at least the stories have been pretty cool…
THE SHADOW COUNCIL’S FINAL STAND…
A few years ago, after ‘House of M,’ Marvel created the O.N.E. (Office of National Emergency) as a scapegoat government agency to act as the new jack-booted thugs of the Marvel U. H.A.M.M.E.R. arrived not long after and knocked O.N.E. off the top of the “Corrupt Government Acronym Agency” ladder, but this issue begins with an emergency alarm at their headquarters. There’s a bit of spy-game switcheroo that, honestly, is pretty cleverly handled, allowing Commander Rogers, Moon Knight and the Black Widow to infiltrate and begin interrogations to find out which of the O.N.E. thugs is secretly working for the Shadow Council. There’s a very disturbing Warren Ellis moment halfway through this issue that really brought my suspension of disbelief down, as Cap remarks that he doesn’t believe in torture, as it’s ugly, dishonorable and unreliable. “So,” he concludes, “I’m going to let my colleagues do it.” Right there, my enjoyment of the story gets all wrapped up in a Jack Bauer-esque prickly-pear about torture and such, and even the kind of fun lines given to Moon Knight (“Been a while since I cut a man’s face off,” he absolutely truthfully remarks) isn’t enough to get over the dissonance.
UM. THAT WENT QUICKLY.
The first half of the issue comes with a handy countdown to something, and as the timer hits zero, we get an entertaining bit of fighty-fighty featuring War Machine, Valkyrie and Agent 13 against awful hideous monsters from beyond the world, but the wrap-up is sudden and pretty anti-climactic, and the last panel (which could have been an awesome thunderbolt moment) comes across as a depressing coda to what feels like a rushed issue. Stuart Immonen does his usual awesome work throughout the issue, and aside from some occasional difficulties in telling which female team member is which (Valkyrie and Agent 13 are both blondes, and the hyper-saturated red and gold tones of the infiltration sequences even confuse me about the auburn-haired Black Widow at one point) the issue is visually clean and pleasant. The end of the issue may or may not be meant to signal the death knell of the Shadow Council, but leaving the status of the evil organization open-ended adds to the unanswered questions and the issue’s not-quite-finished tone.
THE VERDICT: DECKS CLEARED FOR LAUNCH-BOOT!
This issue does one thing well: It wraps up the Shadow Council (for NOW) while giving the core team (minus the “dead” Nova and AWOL Ant-Man) one last day in the sun before next issue brings in movie Avengers to get things in line with the coming corporate synergy. It’s not as cynical and soulless as all that, as Ellis plays with his usual story-beats, but it is highly reminiscent of his Stormwatch reboot (especially the part about frozen superhumans in the basement) and the momentum doesn’t quite carry all the way through the issue. Secret Avengers #21 is solidly put-together, delivering a slightly-above-average, somewhat flawed tale, with strong art and some nice dialogue, earning a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. Though I expected to see the advent of the new Secret Avengers, the wrap-up of the old team wasn’t disastrous or off-putting, even though the $3.99 price point is a bit inexplicable on this particular book…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is it possible to actually justify “superhero” with “underground black ops team?”